New York Photo Review : : March 2011
by Martha Wilson
A Dark Wind
The work of Jungjin Lee, currently on view at Aperture, is a modern day mash-up of two long traditions. Photographs are printed on mulberry paper coated with liquid emulsion, the textured paper giving them an air of traditional Korean/Chinese landscape painting. Its subject matter, largely landscapes, (albeit of the American West,) adds to this. The second tradition is photography of the American West, itself, both the grand scenic tradition, and the more modern truck-stop, strip-mall variety. To this mix Ms. Lee adds an air of melancholy and depression not traditionally found in either genre.
The handmade mulberry paper is rough and absorbent, the emulsion painted in broad brushstrokes–stray hairs, dust and a few flying insects left in place. Printed dark, so the shadow areas lose their photographic nuances, only the details of the brush-strokes and inclusions remain. This is an evocative technique in some of the images, giving an ominous quality to low-hanging clouds and dark swaths of pine trees. Perhaps it is also a commentary on traditional paintings and photographs of this subject matter; in paintings these dark areas would contain detailed brushwork and washes, and in photographs they were a major obsession of those Zone System devotees.
Unfortunately however, most of the pictures in this large show do not have this dramatic quality. Instead they share a gray, smudgy look, reminiscent of photographs reprinted in cheap pulp magazines. In too many pictures Lee’s technique seems to be a crutch, ‘artifying’ otherwise banal images – California scenery, ghost-towns and abandoned trucks to be specific. To her credit she does manage to evoke a sense of depression about these latter scenes that is not often encountered. (And there is one remarkable picture, taken during a hail-storm, that seems to have roused her out of her melancholy into a state of old-fashioned awe.) But overall this is a sad and depressing show and I left it really hoping that Ms Lee starts feeling a little bit better.